HEALTH

How digital health passes can help curb Covid-19

The European Union and the US have also made tremendous effort in developing their digital health pass versions.

In Summary

• A digital health pass as a system designed to enable businesses verify an individual's health credentials

•  Some countries such as Israel have already adopted and inculcated the use such passes

Abigail Owilla, a nurse administers Covid-19 vaccine to a health worker at Mutuini Hospital, Dagoreti on March 9, 2021
Abigail Owilla, a nurse administers Covid-19 vaccine to a health worker at Mutuini Hospital, Dagoreti on March 9, 2021
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

While the Covid-19 pandemic has been a disaster of the first magnitude, ingenious developments in medicine and technology have ensured the existence of humanity.

Notably, the development of various vaccines has been a glimmer of hope. Despite hesitancy regarding the vaccines, the number of Kenyans opting to be vaccinated has gradually increased, giving hope for the re-opening of the country. To return to normalcy, I make the case for the introduction of digital health passes.

The International Business Machines defines a digital health pass as a system designed to enable businesses verify the health credentials of employees, customers, fans and travellers entering their site based on a criteria.

A wider definition would encompass other entities such as the state, religious institutions and not for profit organisations. Simply put, a reveller would be denied entry at his favourite bar if his or her Covid Digital Health Pass application installed in their smartphone indicated they are yet to be vaccinated. Or perhaps a tourist heading to a park would be allowed entry at the airport if his or her pass gave her a clean bill of health.

Notably, some countries such as Israel have already adopted and inculcated the use such digital health passes. The Israeli ‘green pass’ allows persons vaccinated against the virus to access facilities throughout their jurisdiction. China has also followed suit and launched their health pass, which essentially functions as a digital passport in cross-border travel.

The European Union and the US have also made tremendous effort in developing their digital health pass versions. Unfortunately, as sometimes is the case with most African states, insignificant progress has been made on this frontier.

Even without the gift of prophesy, the benefits of the digital health passes in these times are — to borrow a remark from the fallen Fifth Columnist Philip Ochieng — predictable as the sun sets in the west. Gradual adoption of bespoke digital health passes would generally increase mobility between borders, enable ease of coronavirus restrictions and a return to a semblance of normal socio-economic activities.

While such benefits are conspicuous and self-evident, the sword of Damocles that hangs over the adoption of the passes is the security of the health data collected by such applications. For instance, the bioethics and medical jurisprudential stream in Kenya places an individual’s right to privacy of health data at the forefront.

Accordingly, to surmount this attendant concern, developers and regulators of such technological tools would have to lay a blueprint that not only respects but also promotes the constitutional right to privacy.

Other notable highlights that may come with use of the passes are ethical and equitable considerations. In terms of distribution of vaccines, some states have inequitably distributed jabs and thus disfavouring minorities such as people of colour.

In the Kenyan context, the passes would definitely bring to the fore any evidence of discrimination of inoculation based on the myriad factors that tend to divide the citizenry. To cure such inequities, the passes would enable easier identification of persons who are neglected in the vaccination drive.

In sum, digital health passes are a timely intervention to control the spread of coronavirus. However as more countries adopt various forms of digital health passes, it would become paramount for a harmonisation of the various technologies to enable convenient cross border movement and identification. Still, the buck stops with states to ensure the novelty and importance of this invention does not die the proverbial Mauritius dodo.

Sunday Memba is an advocate and the Founder of the Sunday Law Digest